Littlegreen school – campaign gathers pace

UNISON is supporting parent campaigners and staff at Littlegreen special school in Chichester who are trying to get an academy conversion order overturned.

UNISON is now in formal dispute with the Interim Executive Board (IEB) of governors, which has been appointed by WSCC to lead on the school’s conversion, and WSCC itself.

UNISON’s position is that the IEB should make a request to the Regional Schools Commissioner that the academy order be revoked due to the significant improvements made by the school since its OFSTED inspection.

The school should be given a chance to demonstrate that it has made sufficient improvement. To provide additional time to enable the request to be made and an OFSTED inspection to potentially be carried out, UNISON believes that the TUPE process should be postponed.

1,500 strong survey handed in

Parent campaigners handed in their petition to WSCC Cabinet member for Education & Skills Richard Burrett on Wednesday 10th October. This should secure them speaking rights at a future WSCC Select Committee meeting. ITV Meridian covered the petition presentation.

National attention

Meanwhile, goings on at Littlegreen have gained the attention of nationally-renowned investigative journalist and schools’ campaigner Warwick Mansell.

On his blog, Education Uncovered, Mansell revealed how Solent Academy Trust which has been lined up to take over Littlegreen has been charging WSCC many thousands of pounds for work it says it must do prior to the conversion, even though it has received a central government grant.

You can read the full article below.

Academy trust suggested charging school £25k for pre-academisation work, despite receiving £90k from the government, FOI responses show

An academy trust, working with a school in advance of taking it over, sought to charge it more than £25,000 for this service – despite receiving £90,000 from the government “to cover costs associated with the support provided”, freedom of information responses suggest.

The three-school Solent Academies Trust (SAT), based in Southsea, near Portsmouth, sent a document outlining a “suggested package of support” for just a single term’s work at Littlegreen school near Chichester, west Sussex, with a total proposed cost of £25,825.

The move came despite SAT, which is led by a member of the Headteacher Board for the area and which has been in a protracted bid to take over Littlegreen in a forced academy transfer, having been awarded the £90,000 from public funds to take on the school.

Education Uncovered has sought in the past week to obtain an explanation from the trust about the figures, but has yet to receive a response. In the event, the school appears not to have paid anything like the £25,000-plus figure, although separate invoices suggest a sum of nearly £4,000 was paid.

The background

Littlegreen, a special school for boys, has been facing forced academisation since failing an Ofsted inspection last November. This had taken place only eight weeks after the arrival of its current headteacher, Pam Ridgwell.

The school has been lined up to be handed to SAT, in a move which has been especially controversial because SAT’s £120-£125,000-a-year executive headteacher, Alison Beane, sits on the Headteacher Board which advises the government on academy takeovers. She is also on the Interim Executive Board which is implementing the takeover.

Nearly 1,500 people have now signed a petition against the plans and campaign supporters took to the streets to protest as the media converged on Chichester for a recent visit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Campaigners say pupils at the school need stability, and have questioned whether SAT is the right organisation to come in and run it.

Nevertheless, the process has been ongoing since an academy order, lining up the school for academisation, was made in January 2018.

The FOIs: FOI doc 1

Now freedom of information responses to parent Hayley Rose show that SAT sent the school a five-item suggested bill for “support”, to be provided for the summer term 2018.

This FOI response, headlined “Suggested package of support for Littlegreen School that Solent Academies Trust can provide Summer Term 2018”, has been heavily redacted. However, it is still possible to see both each category of support suggested and what the proposed overall bill was.

The five categories of support proposed were: “Leadership support and development for headteacher, deputy headteacher”, to be provided by “NLE [National Leader of Education], Executive Headteacher”; “Quality First Teaching Assessment Curriculum development Safeguarding”, provided by staff including a “highly experienced assistant headteacher”; “behaviour including behaviour for learning”; and “Quality First Teaching”, in both cases offering “CPD [continuing professional development] for all staff”; and “Data analysis” by a specialist.

The quotation provides columns setting out “no of days and rate” and “total cost” for each item, but these numbers have been blacked-out in the FOI response.

However, the total suggested amount has been left visible: £25,825.

FOI doc 2

Another FOI response, to ex-teacher and campaign supporter Sylvia Mundy, however, shows that SAT had been funded directly by the government for support work at Littlegreen.

The response, from the office of the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC), Dominic Herrington, stated: “You requested ‘details of what costs have been agreed and what costs are being discussed between RSC and Solent Academies Trust to take on Littlegreen Special school’…

“I can confirm that Solent Academies Trust have received £90,000 from the RSC as a sponsor academy to cover costs associated with the support provided.”

In the absence of further information from the trust itself, it is difficult to be sure exactly what this sum was meant to cover. However, it appears to be in line with standard “pre-opening grants” provided by the government for sponsored academies.

These have been listed as £90,000 for “primary/special schools” on an “intermediate” route to sponsored academy status. According to a briefing by a legal firm on this grant scheme, “sponsored academies receive a ‘pre-opening grant’ for costs including legal advice, project management, curriculum development and the early appointment of key staff.”

FOI doc 3

A third FOI response, to Rose, shows that charges were made for work carried out, although the value appears to be much less than £26,000, at just under £4,000.

A set of two “sales invoices” sent to Littlegreen, dated 19/7/18, are mainly blacked-out but do provide some information on total costs.

The first one has 11 items, with each one given a “value” in the original invoice. Although all details as to the nature of the work provided and the cost of each item, the total cost of £3,635 is visible.

The second invoice has just one item, to a value of £350. The total of these two invoices, then, was £3,985.

Education Uncovered understands that another parent, Janiene Young, has not received any response to another FOI request sent to the trust back in July.

This website sent an email to the address on the trust’s website and was initially told it had not been received, though later we were told it had and that a response would be forthcoming, although a week after our original enquiry, none had come.

-Parents met Beane this week, as it emerged that the executive headteacher is to retire from next September, with the trust now seeking a replacement. Education Uncovered has been told that Beane plans to work three days a week at Littlegreen from January.

Last month, we reported how Headteacher Board minutes setting out very brief details of decision-making around the choosing of SAT to run the school, had been published late, and without this having being noted on the government’s website.

They state that Beane was absent when the HTB took the decision to recommend SAT take over Littlegreen.